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Two-star general, five others punished for 2017 Niger ambush that killed 4 US troops

Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks, commander, Special Operations Command Africa, thanks host nation Niger, for their role and support of Flintlock 2018 during opening remarks of the Senior Leadership Seminar in Niamey Niger Apr. 9, 2018. Flintlock is an annual, African-led, integrated military and law enforcement exercise that has strengthened key partner nation forces throughout North and West Africa as well as western Special Operations Forces since 2005. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 (SW/AW) Evan Parker/RELEASED)
November 06, 2018

Six U.S. service members, including a two-star general, have received punishment for their involvement in a Niger ambush last year that left four American soldiers and four Nigerien soldiers dead.

An Air Force two-star general, Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks, who headed Special Operations Command Africa, is among those punished, along with two Green Berets and three others along the chain of command, according to The New York Times.

The six personnel – four officers and two enlisted soldiers – received General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand letters, citing their insufficient training and inadequate mission drills before leaving their base a day before the ambush.

Also punished was Capt. Mike Perozeni, leader of the 11-man Green Beret team – Team 3212, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group. His letter stated that the team had insufficient training alongside the Nigerien soldiers.

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Perozeni’s second-in-command, a master sergeant, was also reprimanded with a similar letter. His name, along with names of the three other personnel, has not been released due to safety concerns.

On Oct. 4, 2017, Team 3212 was operating with 30 Nigerien troops near the Malian border conducting a mission to find ISIS leader Doundoun Cheffou. They had been in Niger for a few weeks, but their training efforts were conducted with a separate counterterrorism team instead of the Nigerien troops.

After failing to find Cheffou at his camp, the mission traveled toward a nearby village, Tongo Tongo, to engage with a key leader. Shortly after, they were ambushed by ISIS-affiliate militants who had been following the mission’s location for several hours.

Among the eight killed in the attack were four U.S. troops: Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Sgt. La David Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright.

A 6,300-page Pentagon report was released in May detailing the investigation and the mistakes made by personnel. The investigation sought to identify failures carried out by the involved personnel and concluded with 23 findings, six of which underwent additional investigations by the Special Operations Command.

“The direct cause of the enemy attack in Tongo Tongo is that the enemy achieved tactical surprise there, and our forces were outnumbered approximately three to one,” said Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, AFRICOM’s former chief of staff and head of the investigation, according to the Army Times.

The report later concluded that the team had no authorization to go after Cheffou in the first place.

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The team was suspected of lying about the mission to avoid a paperwork review from higher levels of command, however, the investigation found they had not been dishonest. Instead, the mission was reportedly mischaracterized.

“The paperwork that was submitted, the packet was identical to a previous [concept of operations]. So it was done hastily, and there was a lack of attention to detail,” Cloutier said. “It wasn’t a deliberate intent to deceive, it was lack of attention to detail.”

It’s unclear what specific punishments the six troops will face. However, the letters of reprimand will remain in their files for some time, and could potentially be permanent with career-ending consequences.

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This article was updated to reflect that the mission in Niger involved Nigerien troops, not Nigerian troops.